When Sarni Hart made a spur of the moment lifestyle change from Auckland to Coromandel, she had no idea she was about to embark on an entirely new career and life direction.
These days the former Auckland school teacher is still drawing on her early educational roots, but has created her own classroom – one outside in nature.
Hart is striving to help educate both locals and tourists around the importance and value of New Zealand's native forests.
Part of her commitment to helping ensure the future of native trees like kauri is through helping spread the word around how to safely navigate the surrounding landscapes without causing harm or spreading disease like kauri dieback.
This message is incorporated into a wider storytelling session around stunning Coromandel forest walks, like Long Bay Kauri Forest, where she helps run a track ambassador and complimentary guided walk programme.
This free service sees her guide people through the forest, sharing stories of the trees and land, and sharing some of her passion and love for the town she now calls home.
From city to land
While Hart was once an Auckland city dweller, a desire to give her three young children more of a "great Kiwi outdoors" upbringing saw her up sticks and move across the water to Coromandel, taking a punt that they would all adapt to small town living.
Having initially based themselves in the tiny community of Kūaotunu, the quartet rapidly adapted to their new lifestyle, which included being delivered to kindergarten on horseback and the kind of freedom usually associated with growing up in the 70s.
That was more than 20 years ago and Hart and her now adult children did more than adapt – they thrived.
With interests as diverse as free diving, horse riding and sport climbing, Hart's hopes to see her children appreciate the Kiwi outdoors and develop an adventurous spirit well and truly came to fruition.
"It was a case of be careful what you wish for," she joked.
"They were all into pretty extreme interests in terms of exploring the land and sea around them, quite often in remote places.
"I didn't want to curtail their adventurous spirit so I kept as close an eye on them as I could and upskilled by becoming a volunteer ambulance officer."
And along the way she became something of an advocate herself; for the bush, forest, coastline and the Coromandel environment.
Remaining especially close to Hart's heart is protecting the magnificent Coromandel surroundings she calls home. She and her husband Willie Lochore also share a love of propagating and growing native trees.
The mighty kauri, guardians of the land, have extra special significance for the couple who were married at Waiau Kauri Grove, with the trees standing sentinel on their special day.
"The fact we get to share the truly special surroundings of Coromandel with visitors as our business is pretty astounding. The kauri and other native trees here are special to many and we want to do our bit to ensure the next generation can continue to enjoy them too."
As well as Coromandel Adventures having received a Qualmark Enviro Award for the work the company does with kauri dieback, Hart is also a trustee of the Coromandel Kauri Dieback Forum and treasurer for Upper Coromandel Forest & Bird.
Of particular personal interest to Hart (and Lochore) is the future of the majestic kauri tree, and helping ensure the continued health of kauri in Coromandel, which includes more than 400 giants over 1000 years old.
As one of the locations (along with Northland and Auckland) showing trees affected by kauri dieback disease, Hart is determined to encourage good habits among locals and visitors, and help educate young and old around safe ways to view bush and forest.
Standing up for kauri
On the free guided tour and storytelling programme, through the Coromandel Kauri Dieback Forum, Hart and her team host visitors (and locals) on a walk through Long Bay Kauri forest, sharing their knowledge of the plentiful kauri, pohutukawa, puriri and nikau.
Of key importance is encouraging people to understand and build awareness around the importance of correctly using the kauri dieback cleaning stations, installed on a number of popular tracks in Coromandel, including Long Bay and Waiau Kauri Grove.
"Everything is provided so people have the opportunity to clean their footwear before entering and exiting these special places," Hart said.
"And part of the storytelling experience is fostering an understanding of why this is so important. It's really rewarding seeing people completely change their mindsets and view the forest around them with fresh eyes and appreciation."
• Offering three free guided forest sessions each Saturday and Sunday from Long Bay, Coromandel (just five minutes out of town), anyone is welcome to take part at no cost. The programme ends on April 4 and bookings can be made at coromandeladventures.co.nz. Provided by the Coromandel Kauri Dieback Forum with funding and support from the Ministry of Primary Industries, Waikato Regional Council, and Thames Coromandel District Council; and delivered through Coromandel Adventures, which Hart owns with Lochore.
Keep kauri standing
Kauri dieback may spread by movement of dirt. Staying on tracks (and off kauri root zones; their root zones are way bigger than you think), and cleaning footwear (along with dog paws, and vehicle tyres) before and after forest visits is key to protecting kauri.
This harmful mould (or chromist) affects kauri roots and tissues that carry nutrients within the tree. There isn't a cure but protecting kauri is really simple. It is wholly about stopping the movement of dirt.
Humans are the number one way in which the disease is spread, through the movement of contaminated soil. Whether a pleasure walker, dedicated tramper, or hunter who often veers from the track or hunts with dogs, you play a vital role in helping stop the spread of Kauri dieback.
So use the cleaning stations, or if you're venturing further afield keep a cleaning kit in your backpack or vehicle which includes brushes to remove all traces of soil from your footwear, a supply of sterigene, and plastic bags for bagging any gear that can't be cleaned onsite.
For more information, visit kauriprotection.co.nz
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